Since his freshman year in high school, Randy Woodward has always felt the need to run. A member of the cross country team throughout high school, he competed in conference, district and state meets. He never thought of himself as fast but he had a need for endurance running.
Born and raised just outside the city limits of Raymore, tiny town just south of Kansas City Missouri, Randy was fourth of six children. His two younger brothers, Eddy and Scott, followed suit and as Randy says “They were much better and much faster than I ever was at cross country and track”.
Throughout Randy’s life he continued to run. Sporadic and intermittent he would just go for a short jog which could turn into a minimum six mile run. It was something that always seemed natural and comfortable. He didn’t compete in 5ks or 10ks, and certainly didn’t do it for his health. It was just for a love for running.
In 2000 he enlisted, age of 35, and became a Navy SeaBee. SeaBee’s are the construction force of the Navy who augment the Marines with vertical and horizontal construction in combat zones. During the Navy’s twice annual Physical Readiness Tests, Randy did not find them very challenging and soon found himself as the Physical Readiness Test coordinator for not one but two Navy SeaBee battalions. After his first deployment to the Middle-East, Randy finally built-up the courage to run his first full marathon in 2004. A distance he’d never attempted.
During his second deployment in Iraq in 2005, while on convoy detail, the tractor-trailer Randy was driving was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device or roadside bomb). Once the vehicle came to a rest, Randy was able to pull his alternate driver from the burning truck and drag him to safety. Immediately after the explosion a firefight with combatants would ensue. It would be eight hours before he and other team members would be extracted. Nine months of therapy in hospitals and clinics at Portsmouth Naval Hospital and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia followed. Randy and the occupant of his vehicle, were decorated and honored with The Purple Heart, a military decoration to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who have been wounded or killed in combat.
Fortunately, Randy did not sustain limb loss during the explosion. His injuries are extensive and chronic. He suffers from knee, back, neck and shoulder damage; mild hearing loss and Tinnitus (heavy ringing in the ears). Traumatic Brain Damage (also known as TBI) has left him with constant headaches and migraines in which a reasonable cure has yet to be discovered.
“I have an ongoing, 24/7, 365 days a year headache which I’ve accepted as one of those friends that’s annoying and just won’t leave you alone.”
Almost five years after the roadside bomb incident, Randy got tired of sitting and feeling helpless. Running needed to be in his life.
If you can’t beat’em, join’em.
He couldn’t put the headaches behind him so he decided to go forward living and not let ailments slow him down. It became necessary to use knee and lower back supports. In 2010, Randy ran his second full marathon. As he found the running “doable” he persevered and completed an average of one full marathon a year.
In the Fall of 2018, Randy decided the pains involved in distance running were too much to bare. He was ready to give up running for good. But… there was one goal he was striving to accomplish before giving in to the physical distress. He wanted to attempt two marathons in one weekend. Randy chose two full marathons that were in driving distance of his home and attempted both. Here’s where the story takes a turn and gets interesting: because of Randy’s injuries he was not happy with his running. He felt an accomplishment finishing a marathon but, he could no longer obtain speed during his training or during the marathons he entered. Too put it bluntly it made him upset, frustrated, mad, disappointed and depressed having speed taken out of his running equation. After registering for the two marathons in one weekend, he decided to try something different. The idea was to run with an American flag. But that wasn’t enough because Randy had seen many other marathon runners carrying the American flag. He needed something different, something that would stand out from the rest. The decision was made to attempt carrying a 5ft x 8ft American flag. This is the part where I tell you Randy doesn’t like personal attention. Although, he does like being part of something much bigger than himself. Randy completed both marathons while hoisting the 40 square foot flag. After this accomplishment, he couldn’t stop there. He registered for two more marathons the following weekend. Before it was all said and done Randy completed 12 full marathons in six consecutive weekends, all while carrying the same 5ft x 8ft American flag.
Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone
During his 12 marathon in 6 weekend endeavor, Randy was approached by members of The 50 State Marathon Club. This led way to Randy joining the club and the beginning of his chase to do a marathon in all fifty states while carrying the same 5ft x 8ft American flag. It would become the thing that was much bigger than himself and his injuries.
“It’s become very important that this same flag see all 50 states with me. It’s become soiled and punctured, small tears from contact with road signs and caught on razor wire over the fencing at Fort Benning during the Soldier Marathon. It will continue to carry the same war wounds as I carry throughout our journey”.
During the 2019 year, Randy began his chase after more marathons to complete states. A few more weekend back-to-backs and doubles were completed. More knee supports and back supports have been worn out. Under advisement of his orthopedic doctor, he began getting cortisone shots on both shoulders so he could keep his arms lifted while trying to keep grasp of the flag pole during marathons he would run. The original 8ft flagpole was discarded and a 12ft pole became the replacement. The flag needed to be hoisted higher to keep it from hitting runners as it popped in the wind. As for those pesky headaches, they continued to be problematic while running. There have been marathons he has started with migraines and also migraines have emerged while running marathons.
“There have been times I couldn’t keep my eyes open and times I’m just wanting to pull off to the side of the runway and lay down, close my eyes and dismiss the event. The one thing that always, always keeps pushing me is the support of other runners as they pass by and thank me for carrying the flag, thanking me for my service. I’m always told how inspiring I am and the flag I carry. Truth be told, those that make mention of the flag and the motivation it brings them is the biggest inspiration. It’s what drives me.”
Between October 2018 and November 2019, Randy completed 44 full marathons, 43 of them with the flag, and completed 36 states. During that time he also completed 12 marathons in 12 days while running the Independence Series and New England Series with Mainly Marathons. Randy’s last marathon of the 2019 season was The Flying Monkey in Nashville Tennessee where he completed running the steep hills, not only with the 5ft x 8ft American flag, but also wearing fire fighters gear including helmet and oxygen tank in support of his best friend retiring from the fire department and also supporting Nashville’s First Responders.
Randy’s drive and motivation is to inspire others to never give in nor give up.
“Training for a marathon takes a lot of dedication and is a huge endeavor. An even bigger obstacle is challenging and convincing your mind to stay focused and complete your goals. We are so much stronger than we allow ourselves to be. Take charge and make yourself happen.”